What is the difference between augmented reality and virtual reality?

Two technologies have been popping up a lot lately, augmented reality and virtual reality. What are they and how can they be used?

Augmented reality

Augmented reality overlays a computer generated display onto your view of your current surroundings. When viewing the world with augmented reality, the furniture in the room is still there, but the computer can place objects on tables, on the floor, or on the wall. Microsoft’s Hololens technology is currently the leading technology for augmented reality.


With Microsoft’s Hololens, any part of a wall can become a TV, and your Minecraft creation can sit on your coffee table. In tech demos, Microsoft demonstrated a Skype call where participants could draw on their environment.

Virtual Reality

On the other hand, virtual reality completely closes off the user from viewing her current surroundings. The user will only see what the computer generates. While this provides a more immersive experience, it can hinder real world interaction. The leading technology is the Oculus Rift (which is now owned by Facebook) and Google’s Cardboard product that provides an inexpensive way to experience virtual reality with a smartphone you already own.

With the Oculus Rift you can sit by the fireplace in your Tuscany villa.

Virtual Reality is a great way to experience time and places that would be difficult or impossible to visit. Want to visit a medieval castle? It’s possible in virtual reality.

Which is the best?

There is no “best” between these two technologies. Both fulfill certain needs, and neither can fulfill all the needs. Virtual Reality is a great way to experience places that would be impossible or dangerous in the classroom, while augmented reality would bolster interaction with the real world.

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